The lesser griefs that may be said,
That breathe a thousand tender vows,
Are but as servants in a house
Where lies the master newly dead;

Who speak their feeling as it is,
And weep the fulness from the mind:
`It will be hard,’ they say, `to find
Another service such as this.’

My lighter moods are like to these,
That out of words a comfort win;
But there are other griefs within,
And tears that at their fountain freeze;

For by the hearth the children sit
Cold in that atmosphere of Death,
And scarce endure to draw the breath,
Or like to noiseless phantoms flit;

But open converse is there none,
So much the vital spirits sink
To see the vacant chair, and think,
‘How good! how kind! and he is gone.’

It’s clear that Tennyson knows nothing of family bereavement in a council house. But ok, the upper classes have a right to their grief. He seems to me to undervalue the communicable sort of grief by his picture of servants whose main concern is getting new work. There’s nothing wrong with feeling how a death may cause difficulties in one’s own life, but it is too specific a concern to stand for the usual kinds of grief and their expression.

He contrasts superficial grief with the grief of children, who weep for their good and kind father. This is such a conventional image, ignoring all the situations in which some children may not weep at all, that it fails to carry conviction. This is an instance where Tennyson’s imagination is limited by his social piety.

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